Recommended Tree Varieties for the Garden

This section has to be slightly out of balance, because there are more varieties and types of shrub for the garden than there are trees. Also, they are far more practical. A tree can easily need twenty years or more to attain a respectable size, and few of us can afford that amount of time before we can see what we regard as a worthwhile display. Shrubs, on the other hand, are generally smaller, more manageable and more adaptable, and of course they are far quicker to mature and take their full place in your decorative scheme. Both are long-term investments. Given freedom from disaster, like Dutch elm disease or the dreaded honey fungus, they will flourish for years in the same place, saving you no end of labour in cultivating that part of the ground, and paying rent in that their fallen leaves will provide costless benefits for your soil, whether left for the worms to drag down and aerate the soil or gathered up and used as compost.

So let us go into our discussion on types for situations — and first I must warn you that some varieties of shrubs also rank as trees, and vice versa. Most cotoneasters, for instance, are undoubtedly shrubs, but one, Cotoneaster hybrida pendula, is generally regarded as a tree, and is an excellent one, too, for a small garden.

Conversely, there are some trees that can equally well be classed as shrubs. Acers provide a classic example. Some of them are definitely trees, but the Japanese maples are all classed as shrubs, though they are the same family. The crataegus is the thorn tree, but thorn hedges are obviously shrubs, and even the willow (salix) has both types in its repertoire.


Acer – Maple


Acer campestre is likely to be the best for your purpose. It is also known as the field or hedge maple, which explains its main uses: have it as an outsize ‘dot plant’ in a hedge, and you will get yellow or red foliage in autumn. Fairly small —about 6m (20ft). Acer platanoides, the Norway maple, has yellow flowers in spring and yellow or red autumn foliage. It is higher than Acer campestre and rapidly grows to about 10m (35ft). A. hersii is famous for its marbled-effect bark as well as its autumn colour. Quite a small tree – maximum 6m (20ft). But probably the maple best known as a name is Acer palmatum, a half-breed for our purposes as it can be either a tree or a shrub. It is the famous Japanese maple, and there are many varieties of it. Most of them are a convenient size, roughly 2m (6ft), and if you have room get three or four of them and ensure yourself a wonderful and slightly varied display of foliage ‘fireworks’ to round off the late summer and autumn.


Ailanthus – Tree of Heaven

A well known but seldom recognized tree. It grows fast to about 8m (25ft), tolerates a polluted atmosphere, and has very large leaves almost a metre long. Some bear red berries.


Alnus – Alder

Alnus glutinosa is the common type of alder growing to about 6m (2oft). The alders do well in moist conditions. A. cordata is also very useful on chalk.


Amelanchier – June berry

Like the alder, this one thrives in moist conditions. It can also be obtained in shrub form. A. canadensis has a mass of white flowers in spring and when the leaves have gone reddish-coloured branches relieve the winter drabness. About 3-4m (10-12ft).


Aralia chinensis

A dwarf tree that is much shorter than a good many3ftubs, growing to barely 2m (6ft). An attraction is the stalks of white flowers in early autumn, from August to October.


Arbutus – Strawberry tree

This one is a real beauty. Arbutus unedo is the best for most purposes. With a maximum height of about 2.5m (8ft), it is another that is often referred to as a shrub. Not much of a display in summer, but 4 produces both leaves and strawberry-like fruits in autumn, even as late as November. A further bonus is that it is evergreen.


Betula – Birch


Everybody knows this one. The ‘silver’ and `paper’ ones are perhaps the most popular. Betula pendula, with graceful hanging branches and white bark, is a little tall for most gardens at 9m (30ft). Betula papyrifera, very similar in appearance, is a metre or more on top of that. There is, however, one that is ideal for a small area and looks wonderful on a lawn -  Betula pendula youngii, a short, weeping, dome-shaped birch whose branches reach to the ground. This will grow to about 5m (16ft).


Carpinus – Common hornbeam

Carpinus betulus is rather tall growing for most family gardens, but if caught and trimmed in time makes a good hedge, similar to the beeches, as the leaves last well into winter. Some varieties are useful as specimen trees, notably Carpinus columnaris and Carpinus pyramidalis — the descriptions speak for themselves — each about 6m (20ft).


Catalpa – Indian bean tree

This one spreads to at least its own height and is very spectacular in late summer with a display of white flowers, rather like foxgloves, but these do not normally appear until the tree is well established. It grows to about 5m (16ft) and can go higher in rich soil.


Crataegus – Thorn

Can be either tree or shrub, and is beautiful as either. Crataegus monogyna is known to everyone as the hawthorn, the quickthorn, or the may. Leave it as a tree and it provides a wonderful feast for eye and nose in late spring and early summer with perfumed white flowers; in autumn it produces colourful berries. It grows to about 7m (23ft). Prune hard back soon after planting to give a good bottom as a hedge and you will have no need to worry about marauding dogs and cats!


Eucalyptus – Gum tree

This is one of my favourites, not particularly for its perfume but because of the way it gets down to work very quickly. Thick, glossy, blue-green leaves shoot up very rapidly – a friend who bought some was astonished to find they grew about 1m (3ft) in a year. They are so eager that they really need restraining, so it is advisable to prune them back in the first couple of years to give them a chance to branch and make a sturdy base. There are several varieties, all evergreen.

Eucalyptus gunnii, the best known, can reach 5m (16ft) and is very hardy. Eucalyptus citriodora has a refreshing lemony perfume but needs protection as it is rather tender.


Fagus – Beech

Fagus sylvatica, the so-called common beech, and perhaps the best loved, is the one with the wonderful copper autumn foliage and bright green springtime leaves. As a specimen tree it will easily reach 5-6m (16-20ft), but if well pruned in the early stages forms the familiar picturesque hedge.


Fraxinus – Ash

You may not want an ash because most of them do grow to rather a great height for ordinary gardens, but there are so many varieties, and they are so widely known, that they virtually force their way into this list. Fraxinus excelsior, the common ash, can grow up to about 9m (30ft) though there is a weeping version only about half this height. The flowering ash, Fraxinus mariesii, is also quite small and carries a fine display of white flowers around Midsummer’s Day.



The laburnum has a distinction in that it is one of the few trees whose botanical name is also the common one. In fact, I wonder how many people know it by its other name of golden rain. Those lovely drops of yellow flowers in early summer make it one of our most popular small trees: I have one that is well established yet it is only about 2.5m (8ft) tall. Yet in a way the laburnum does not deserve its popularity, for it is an uncongenial plant. According to an old wives’ tale it is poisonous to everything within its reach, and there is a germ of truth in this. Certainly, neither the owner nor his child or pet must eat any of it — and if you notice, few other plants grow beneath it.


Malus – Flowering crab


Malus justifies a place in every garden, no matter how small. The spring flowers are a tonic and in the autumn their brightly coloured fruits are a temptation to small boys — until they have eaten one raw. Nevertheless, they are edible: crab apple jelly is a famous home-made delicacy. ‘Golden Hornet’ and ‘John Downie’ are best for this purpose. Top height is about 3.5m (12ft).


Platanus – London plane

This is one of the maple family, but without the leaf colour we generally associate with them. Very hardy, it can easily reach over 9m (30ft).


Populus – Poplar

Mostly we see poplars in country districts, their leafy erect branches acting as elevated wind- breaks while leaving ample space below. But here, too, the tree can become a shrub with training, and poplar hedges, though quite rare, do exist. P. alba is a good one for this, for it can be pruned back heavily. Very useful for seaside gardens, as it is tolerant to chalk and resistant to spray.



The partner to the mal us family — the flowering plums, cherries and almonds. Growing conditions are much the same, and there are so many to choose from I can only say the imagination boggles. Go to a nursery or garden centre, pick out those that appeal most to you, and carry them home in triumph and expectation. Most flower in spring, but P. subhirtella autumnalis is the autumn cherry, which blooms on most days through winter, offering sprays for cutting. Height — about 6m (20ft).


Quercus – Oak

An oak arouses feelings of pride and patriotism in much the same way that the rose does, but on a grander scale. And an oak is not impossible, even in a modest garden. Some are reckoned to grow no more than about 3.5m ( 2ft) at most. One, Quercus coccifera, ranks as a shrub, grows slowly to only about 2m (6ft) and is evergreen. I have never had one, but I am told it is superb near a rock garden.

One I do know, almost too well, is Quercus cerris, the turkey oak, for I inherited one as near neighbour to a lawn and flower beds. It is reputed to be the fastest growing of the oaks, and it was already well above 6m (20ft) when I first made its acquaintance. It cast a nice shade, without being overpowering, for the lowest branches were quite high up, but one point we had never read in books is that it sheds its leaves at the most awkward time — in midsummer. They are tough leaves, too, and made the lawn and beds look dreadfully untidy until we swept them up.


Robinia pseudoacacia – Common acacia

The ‘genuine’ acacia is the shrub most of us know as the wattle, which sometimes takes tree form. Fragrant white flowers in June are an irresistible magnet to bees; it is also known as the locust tree.


Salix – Willow

Another dual-purpose subject, for some varieties are trees and others shrubs. An obvious choice for a damp site, or beside a stream or pond. You may not want the best known, Salix alba caerulea, for this is the one from which cricket bats are made, and it grows to over 9m (30ft). Salix a. tristis — the golden weeping willow — is a magnificent one, but again rather large and about the same height. One that will hit you for six is Salix a. purpurea pendula, a mouthful that describes the purple osier: purple bark, blue-green leaves, weeping habit, and only about 3.5m (12ft) to the top of its dome shape.



The most familiar member of this family is Sorbus aucuparia, the mountain ash or rowan. It has attractive foliage and hosts of bright red berries in late summer/early autumn — a magnet to birds, which devour them as soon as the weather closes in. It is particularly good in acid soil but succeeds almost anywhere, reaching 5m (16ft) in good conditions. Another popular type is Sorbus aria, the whitebeam, which is a champion for chalk. A feature is the changing colour of the leaves – grey, green and gold. Again there is an abundance of berries, darker than the mountain ash. It grows to about the same height.


Tilia – Lime

I do not know the varietal name of my old lime. Those lovely long yellow lines of June blossom emitted a wonderful soft perfume, especially in the morning sun. The leaves sang softly in the breeze, and for weeks on end there was the background hum of the bees busily working the blossom.

On a more mundane note, limes tend to drip a sticky substance like aphid honeydew. There was a row of limes flanking our road, and many accidents were caused by vehicles skidding on it as they rounded a sharp bend. One variety, Tilia euchlora, is free from this defect. It grows to about 10m (30ft). You can appreciate why autumn should be called the fall when you see an old lime shedding its leaves. Collect them quickly: you will help your compost along enormously. One widely recommended is Tilia petiolaris, the weeping silver lime, which is sufficient description.

28. April 2011 by admin
Categories: Plants, Trees and Shrubs | Tags: , | Comments Off on Recommended Tree Varieties for the Garden


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